The UnderGarden Review
The UnderGarden is one of those puzzle games that's more of an experience than it is a game. It creates a unique underwater world in which you control a little creature tasked with bringing all of the aquatic plant life to bloom. To do so, you collect pollen from special locations and then pass over the plants lining the cavern floors, walls, and ceilings and watch as they flower in an explosion of multicolored blooms. With the relaxing music and peaceful underwater environments you could almost just play the game as a way to unwind before turning in for the night, but it's not that simple of a game. In order for you to make your way through the submarine passages that form the game's levels you'll need to solve a few puzzles to get past the obstacles that bar your way.
The puzzles in the game are relatively easy to solve at first, but they do become more challenging on the game's later levels although they're never unfair or overly difficult. Solving these puzzles usually requires the harvesting of fruit with special properties. Some float up while others sink like rocks, both of which are useful for pressure plates, while others exhibit luminous or electrical properties. The game does a good job of introducing each new type of fruit with a few simple puzzles to get you used to how they work before making the puzzles more challenging, and eventually the solutions will require multiple steps and utilize multiple combinations of the different types of fruit.
To create the fruit you have to pollinate the trees in the same way as the other plants to first get them to flower. Then to make them bear fruit you need to find a musician and bring him to the fruit tree. The musicians play different instruments such as a drum or flute, and their music inspires the fruit trees to produce. To bring a musician to a tree, you lasso him, pull him along through the water, and then drop him within "earshot" of the tree. The music of the musicians makes for perfect accompaniment to the game's subtle and ethereal soundtrack, and it's always nice to encounter a musician even if you're not in need of his services. Once a tree bears fruit, you can lasso the fruit and take it to where it's needed.
The game does a good job of making you feel as if you're moving through water – you'll feel a little resistance when you begin to move and you'll slowly float to a stop when you finish moving. You'll encounter even more resistance when you try to swim up, but a boost button will help you overcome the additional drag from gravity. Some caverns are also channels for strong currents that will swiftly whisk you along. It all serves to add to the game's otherworldly, undersea feel.
Your ultimate goal in each level is simply to make it to the end, with a secondary goal of succeeding in making 100% of the plants on the level bloom. There are also special gems and flowers to find on each level, but these are optional goals as well. There aren't time restrictions on the levels and nothing is fatal to your pollinating little creature, so you can take your time casually making your way to the end or spend some time trying to get 100% completion on each of the levels. In either case, there's nothing to break the game's Zen-like relaxing pacing and atmosphere, except perhaps for the lack of mid-level saves.
The game won't appeal to everyone, but its interesting visual style, unique setting, and clever but unintimidating puzzles make for an enjoyable and relaxing experience. If you're looking for something a little different and enjoy platform-esque puzzle games, it's well worth your time.
Final Rating: 92%. The UnderGarden's unique elements come together to make for an enjoyable and relaxing game experience.